A scientific question takes the form ‘If I make this change over here, what change happens over there?’ Anything else is a non-scientific question. In particular, engineering questions and moral questions are not scientific questions.
An example of a scientific question would be: If a person covers his face with a specific kind of mask (a change over here), what fraction of contagious particles will be able to travel some particular distance (a change over there) when that person coughs, or sneezes, or breathes normally?
An example of an engineering question would be: How can we design a mask that will stop a certain fraction of contagious particles from traveling some particular distance, while still allowing a person to breathe without difficulty?
An example of a moral question would be: When, if ever, does a perceived benefit from forcing people into some behavior (like wearing masks, or restricting travel, or abstaining from making a living) justify punishing innocent people, and suppressing fundamental rights?
Scientific questions give us ideas about what we can do, and engineering questions help us think about how we can do those things. But moral questions help us decide whether we should do something.
Each kind of question is a kind of tool. Any tool is well-suited for some tasks, and ill-suited for most other tasks. (A saw is good for cutting boards, not so good for driving nails. A hammer is good for driving nails, not so good for cutting boards.)
Each kind of question has a different methodology for answering it. Scientific questions are answered by conducting controlled experiments. Engineering questions are answered by mathematically exploring spaces of possible alternatives. Moral questions are answered by choosing a set of values and priorities that don’t require further justification, and using those for guidance.
Different kinds of tools, for different kinds of tasks.
When we confuse scientific questions with moral questions, we effectively kill science (a search for the truth) by turning it into data-based advocacy (an attempt to support a particular policy). That’s what we’re doing now.
And as a result, the two most important casualties of COVID-19 are turning out to be liberty and science.